What is a farmer’s greatest enemy?

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

October 18, 2019

“The real enemy of farmers is lousy seeds.”

So says 2019 World Food Prize laureate Simon N. Groot, a Dutch seed breeder who is advocating to increase farmers’ access to improved seeds.

Food producers deserve the opportunity to make more money from their work and that begins with supplying them with better seeds — and the knowledge of how to use them most effectively, he said.

“My own philosophy from the beginning 40 years ago was to deliver quality seeds to the farmers and become their friends,” Groot told a crowd of international agriculture experts and politicians who gathered in his honor at a WFP ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday night. “And the best way to become the friend of the farmer is to give them tools to make more money — high quality seeds and the knowledge to make use of them.”

Groot dedicated his award to smallholder farmers in developing countries. “Finally, in this huge world of global agriculture, you have recognized the small guys: the vegetable farmers of Asia, Africa and Latin America,” he said.

“I am a just simple seed man who wants to make a difference to farmers around the world as my ancestors have done for several generations,” he added.

Iowa Gov. Kimberly Ray Reynolds described Groot as a remarkable individual who is joining an elite group of transformational leaders whose innovations have uplifted millions from the grip of hunger, poverty and malnutrition.

Groot, who founded East-West Seed, is credited with introducing new improved vegetable seed varieties to farmers in Southeast Asia and other developing countries, helping to lift them out of poverty.

The seed company, which began in 1982 as a partnership with Philippines seed trader Benito Domingo, now has 973 improved varieties of 60 different vegetable crops that are being used by more than 20 million farmers in 60 countries.

“What has been the secret of our success? The science of developing better seeds, knowledge of market demands and education of the farmers, which we now call knowledge transfer,” he said. “We are currently training 100,000 farmers per year and the goal is to increase that to 300,000 farmers.”

Following its huge success in Asia, the company now plans to expand to Africa to help raise the livelihoods of farmers and improve nutrition for the populace there.  

“How do I see the future of growing vegetables? It will start with transplanting the knowledge of what we have learned in Asia to Africa. We now want to professionalize the vegetable farming industry of Africa like we did and continue to do in Asia,” Groot said.

“More income for the farmers and more healthy foods for the local and urban populations. We want to help the next generation of farmers to stay in the business of their fathers and to develop new innovations in farming, as well as basic entrepreneurial skills,” he added.

“Looking back, our success has really come by sticking to our philosophy of being true friends of the farmers. Because the small guys really do matter. And so do vegetables,” Groot said in concluding his speech to loud applause.

Image: World Food Prize